Donovan was proud of the long way Nathan had come. He’d matured faster than he should have had to. When he was still in the army, in a lot of ways he and Joe had both been cocky kids. But then Nathan had been captured and listed as MIA, while Joe had taken a bullet that had shattered his leg.
It had been at the end of their tour, just before they were going to hang it up and go to work with their brothers at KGI. There had been times when Donovan had wondered if they’d ever get Nathan back. Truly back.
But here he was. Him and Joe both. Assuming command of their own team, and a damn good one from the looks of things. Rio and Steele were hard acts to follow, but Nathan and Joe would soon give both team leaders a run for their money.
“Doesn’t anyone ever answer their goddamn phones?”
Donovan whirled around to see Sean Cameron stride into the restaurant where they’d arranged to meet Walt Breckenridge. The look on Sean’s face made Donovan’s blood run cold. His brothers came to attention, every single one of them tense and ready to explode into action.
“We’ve got big problems,” Sean said tersely. “Did you take care of Breckenridge? Is he out of the picture?”
“No,” Donovan said carefully, dread hitting him squarely in the gut. “Not at all. What’s the problem?”
“Eve’s the problem,” Sean bit out. “She pulled a gun on Rusty when Rusty got to your house. She forced her to drive her from the compound to the hardware store, where she made Rusty empty the safe and cash register. She then tied Rusty up and left her behind the counter and took off in Rusty’s Jeep. Oh, and she left Travis and Cammie at your place.”
TRAVIS read the letter Eve had left on the dresser in utter disbelief. His hands shook violently and he thanked God Cammie was still asleep. What were they going to do? Eve had left them. He didn’t believe for a minute that she’d callously deserted them. Nor did he believe the lies she’d written, that they were better off with Donovan and that she didn’t want him to worry about her.
It was a good-bye. The finality—and sadness—to the words on the note instilled aching grief in his heart. He was afraid for her. What if his father found her? What if he’d already found her? The thought sent a chill bone-deep through his body.
Here, she was protected. Donovan wouldn’t allow anything to happen to her. What had happened to make her take off on her own?
He knew she was protecting him and Cammie—just as she’d always done. But why leave? It didn’t make sense. What had driven her to this act of desperation? What did she know that he didn’t? What hadn’t she told him?
Rusty burst through his door just then, her glance going toward the bed. Then she grimaced when she took in Travis’s expression and the note he held in his hand.
“You know,” she murmured.
“What do you know?” Travis demanded. “Do you know where she is, Rusty?”
Rusty sighed. “No, I’m sorry, I don’t. But we’ll find her, Travis. I swear to you we’ll find her. Sean is letting Donovan know. Believe me when I say my brothers on a mission is a scary-as-shit sight.”
“I don’t understand,” Travis said, allowing his frustration to leak into his tone. He was barely managing to keep it under control. He was scared. More frightened than when it had been just the three of them on the run, constantly looking over their shoulders and worried that they’d be discovered at any moment.
But they’d been together. And now Eve was God-only-knew where, and he and Cammie were just supposed to stay here with Donovan and have a happy life when Eve wasn’t in the picture.
To hell with that. If this was what bought them security, then he didn’t want it. He’d rather take his chances—with Eve—with his family intact, even if it meant running for the rest of their lives.
Rusty put her hand on his shoulder as if sensing the turmoil of his thoughts. “We’ll find her, Travis.”
He looked bleakly at her just as Cammie stirred and called out softly.
Travis stared hard at Rusty, telling her without words not to tell Cammie what was going on. If Travis had his way, Cammie would never know. Eve would be found. Excuses would be made for her absence. But she would not know that their sister had left them in Donovan’s care and had fled.
Travis still didn’t understand any of it. He was sick to his soul and he damned Walt Breckenridge with every breath in his body. It sickened him that he was of his father’s blood. That he shared that bond. How could he have come from such a monster, and what did that make himself?
No, he’d never be like him. He’d die first. Never would he hurt others as his father had.
Travis walked over to the bed just as Rusty’s cell phone rang. When she answered, her eyes widened in surprise. Then she only said, “Okay, we’ll be here and ready.”
Travis picked Cammie up, looking at Rusty in silent question.
“Nathan and Swanny are on their way over to get us,” Rusty explained quietly. “You remember them.” Then her gaze shifted in Cammie’s direction and then back to Travis in silent communication.
As much as it frustrated Travis not to demand information, to know what the hell was going on and if his sister had been found, he wouldn’t traumatize Cammie that way.
Rusty walked over and smiled at Cammie. “What do you say I help you get dressed? Nathan and Swanny are on their way over to get us and we’re going to my parents. Your grandparents,” she said, emphasizing that they should be considered Travis and Cammie’s grandmother and grandfather.
Tears burned Travis’s eyes because they weren’t his family. Eve was. Without her he had no ties. No one who loved him unconditionally and who had sacrificed everything.
Cammie looked cheered by Rusty’s declaration, and then she brightened as if a sudden thought had occurred to her.
“Will Cece be there?”
Rusty shrugged, smiling. “I’m not sure, but it’s entirely possible the entire family will be there.”
Then, as if just realizing that Eve hadn’t been mentioned, Cammie’s excitement dimmed.
“Where’s Evie? Won’t she be there too?”
Her thumb automatically slid into her mouth as she gazed anxiously between Travis and Rusty.
“Donovan will get her,” Travis said resolutely. “Now let Rusty help you get dressed so we can go see our grandparents.”
“YOU want to run that by me again?” Donovan asked in a lethal tone.
He was staring holes through the young deputy, who didn’t look any happier to report the news than Donovan was to receive it.
Donovan’s brothers and team members had all donned serious what-the-fuck looks. And then their expressions turned to ones of sympathy. They were all looking at him like he’d just been played for the ultimate sucker.
Fuck that. No fucking way. There was no way Eve could have done what Sean just accused her of.
“You heard me,” Sean said wearily. “The hell of it is, Rusty swears that Eve was convinced you betrayed her. Rusty was seriously pissed and frustrated because she wanted to help, and Eve told her that her loyalty belonged to her family. Not her. And that furthermore Eve didn’t want to put Rusty in danger. Not to mention she apologized for having to take Rusty’s Jeep, for tying her up and for taking money from a man she hadn’t even met. Doesn’t exactly sound like a hardened criminal, does it?”
Donovan’s hand palmed the back of his neck and he closed his eyes. “Jesus Christ. She thinks I betrayed her? Where is she now, Sean? Tell me you know something. Anything.”
“How long ago?” Garrett bit out. “When did this all go down, Sean?”
Donovan swung around in surprise. Garrett was pissed, all right, but it didn’t seem to be directed at Eve. In fact, none of his brothers or the rest of Nathan and Joe’s team looked anything but . . . worried.
“Well over an hour,” Sean said, his expression dark. “I responded to the alarm Rusty triggered, made damn sure she was okay and then sent her to Donovan’s house so Travis and Cammie wouldn’t be alone. I immediately put out a BOLO on Rusty’s Jeep and Eve. I did not list her as someone to be arrested. I reported it as a suspicious disappearance.”
Donovan knew exactly what Garrett was alluding to with his question. The same knowledge was reflected in every single person in the room’s eyes.
The smug son of a bitch already had her. It was why he didn’t act as if he gave a damn when he’d met with Donovan and his brothers. The bastard had already nabbed her and he thought he held all the cards. He pretended innocence and, after all, he had a pretty damn good alibi. He was there with Donovan, acting in the best interests of his “family,” when in fact he had Eve the entire time.
“Steady,” Sam murmured, putting his hand out to Donovan.
Donovan hadn’t even realized he’d bobbled. His knees went to jelly and he had to grasp Sam’s extended hand to keep from dropping in his tracks.
“He has her,” Donovan said hoarsely, unnecessarily. “I have to get to Travis and Cammie. This will kill them. Dear God. I did this to her? How could she think I betrayed her?”
He couldn’t control the utter bewilderment in his voice. On one level he realized he should be furious. That she’d threatened Rusty. Stolen from both her and his father. That she’d put herself at such a huge risk. But he could muster nothing but horrible, aching fear. And worry that he’d lose her.
“I’d prefer to round up everyone and meet at Ma and Dad’s within the hour,” Sam said. “Sean, can you get every man you can spare on this? I need you to extend that BOLO to Walt Breckenridge. We can’t let him leave the state. Alert the California state patrol and the city and county police where the bastard lives. I don’t care what the fuck you have to tell them. Just get them on this.”
Donovan nodded, still unable to form a coherent sentence. He simply couldn’t comprehend it all. She thought he’d betrayed her, and yet she’d left Cammie and Travis with him. He knew only too well the lengths to which she’d go to protect her siblings. She thought the worst of him and yet she trusted him with the two people she loved most in the world.
It was incomprehensible.
“Let’s roll, man. I don’t think you should be driving. You head to Ma’s so you can update them and be there when everyone starts rolling in. I’ll get Rusty and the kids over there,” Nathan said.
Then he turned to Skylar. “You’re with me. Swanny, you too. Cammie’s familiar with Swanny and I don’t think she’d feel threatened by Skylar. Edge, you’d scare the shit out of her. You and Joe collect the wives. Try not to scare them any more than necessary and tell them everything will be explained when we all meet up at Ma’s. No need in rehashing this more than once.”
“Come on, Van,” Ethan said quietly. “Let’s go to Ma’s so we can put our heads together and figure out what the fuck is going on. You’ll feel marginally better once you know at least Travis and Cammie are safe.”
THE mood was grim and strained at Frank and Marlene’s home. The moment Nathan and Swanny arrived with Rusty, Travis and Cammie, the children were ushered away by Marlene, who promptly sat them in the kitchen to feed them along with Charlotte, who’d arrived just moments earlier.
Sean strode in, the last to get there, and Donovan knew when he saw the deputy’s face, it wasn’t good.
“We found Rusty’s Jeep,” Sean said grimly. “Wrecked on 79 headed out of town. From the looks of it, she was rear-ended and shoved into the ditch. The passenger door was open. Air bags were not deployed. Her bag was still there with the cash from the hardware store, some jewelry and not much else.”
“What the hell did you say to her, Donovan?” Rusty all but shouted.
The others stared at her in surprise. Donovan was taken aback by the anger and grief in her voice. He understood it, but he wasn’t sure why it was directed at him. Surely she, like Eve, couldn’t believe he had in any way betrayed Eve.
“You didn’t see her or hear her. I did,” Rusty seethed. “She thought, no, she knew that you were handing her over to her stepfather. A trade of sorts. She said that she was merely the means for you to get what you truly wanted. Children. A family that didn’t include her. She quoted what so many of us have said over the years. You have a weakness for women and children but especially children. She believes you want them and not her and that you were offering her up to her stepfather. And yet she left Travis and Cammie in your care because she believed no matter what you’d done to her that you truly loved and cared about them and that you’d protect them with your life.”
“Where the hell would she get an idea like that?” Donovan exploded. “Goddamn it! I wouldn’t have done something like that and surely you can’t believe it.”